- Cancer Information
- Cancer treatment
- Radiation therapy
- Managing radiation therapy side effects
- Mouth and throat problems
Mouth and throat problems
Radiation therapy is often used to treat cancer in the mouth, throat, neck or upper chest region. Depending on the area treated, radiation therapy may affect your mouth and teeth. This can make eating and swallowing difficult, and change your sense of taste.
Learn more about:
- Teeth problems
- Dryness and other issues
- Swallowing and taste changes
- How to relieve mouth and throat problems
Radiation therapy to the mouth may increase the chance of tooth decay or other problems in the future. You will need to have a thorough dental check-up and may need to have any decaying teeth removed before treatment starts.
Your dentist can provide an oral health care plan, which outlines any dental work you need before having radiation therapy. It also provides detailed instructions about how to care for your mouth to help prevent tooth decay and deal with side effects such as mouth sores. You will need regular dental check-ups after treatment ends to help prevent future problems.
After several weeks of treatment, your mouth or throat may become dry and sore, and your voice may become hoarse. Radiation therapy can affect your salivary glands so you produce less saliva, which can contribute to the dry mouth. These effects will gradually improve after treatment finishes, but it may take several weeks or even months. In some cases, the effects may improve but not completely disappear.
You may have thick phlegm in your throat, or a lump-like feeling that makes it hard to swallow. Food may also taste different. Taste changes may last for many months after treatment, but normal taste usually returns eventually.
You may have thick phlegm in your throat, or a lump-like feeling that makes it hard to swallow. Food may also taste different. Taste changes may last for many months after treatment, but normal taste usually returns eventually. Sometimes, swallowing may be affected for months after treatment and your speech pathologist will monitor you closely to help you recover. Rarely, swallowing problems may be permanent.
Download a PDF booklet on this topic.
Dr Madhavi Chilkuri, Radiation Oncologist, Townsville Cancer Centre, The Townsville Hospital, and Dean, RANZCR Faculty of Radiation Oncology, QLD; Polly Baldwin, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council SA; Patricia Hanley, Consumer; Prof Michael Hofman, Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging Physician, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Leanne Hoy, Cancer Nurse Consultant, GenesisCare, VIC; Sharon King, Accredited Practising Dietitian, TAS; Dr Yoo Young (Dominique) Lee, Radiation Oncology Consultant, Princess Alexandra Hospital, QLD; Dr Wendy Phillips, Senior Medical Physicist, Department of Radiation Oncology, Royal Adelaide Hospital, SA; Katrina Rech, Radiation Therapist and Quality Systems Manager, GenesisCare, SA. We also thank the health professionals, consumers and editorial teams who have worked on previous editions of this title.
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